Category Archives: How To Coach

It’s not “Just a game”

After a hard fought football game in which you lost, you’re faced with a group of crying young men. They’re staring at you hoping you’ll make sense of what just happened because they can’t. You give that famous quote “it’s just a game” boys, no need to cry over it. That statement rings hollow in the hearts of those young Warriors in front of you. You know it does but you’re trying to give solace to them and you really don’t know how. In your mind, you can hear them saying ‘Coach, if it’s “just a game”, why did we work so hard to win it? If it’s “just a game” why did we give up evenings of comfort at home to practice in the cold rain? If it’s “just a game”, why do we feel so good and celebrate when we win? If it’s “just a game”, why do I feel as though my heart has just been ripped from my chest?’

 

A video game is “just a game”. A board game is “just a game”. A card game is “just a game”. These require little preparation and should not upset you greatly whether you win or lose them. To enter into a physical battle with another live opponent that both have put considerable time and effort into preparing for is not a game and it is unfortunate that it is called that.

 

Here’s the truth and here’s what needs to be said. Young Warriors, that game we just played mattered. It’s okay to cry and mourn its loss. Because when you lose something that matters to you, it’s okay to be sad about it. It’s okay to feel pain. In fact, it’s natural and part of the process of life. In fact, I mourn its loss with you. You invested a lot of time and effort in an attempt to win that game. It would be unnatural to dismiss it with just a wave of the hand and try to pretend it didn’t matter. I am very proud of you and the effort it took to try to win that game. I’m really proud that you chose to stick your nose into the arena of competition. That takes courage. Many of your friends never do that out of fear. That effort has made you a better person even though we lost. That effort will make you stronger in the future. It will teach you to work hard in the face of adversity and to keep trying no matter what. It is what helps to make you a man. Learn to love that effort.

 

So now the next time you’re tempted to say “it’s just a game”, understand the difference and the damage you may be doing to that young Warrior. This is just a part of the process of learning how to love them correctly that each coach must go through.

 

 

Shoulder Tackling vs Chest Plate Tackling

The good thing about blogs is that you just get to put your opinion out there and people can deal with as they may.

When I got into coaching football back in the eighties, we taught a type of shoulder tackling. When I played high school football, I tackled with my shoulders. It just felt natural. I started researching more about all aspects of coaching about 1998. No matter where I saw it taught whether at a clinic or in an article, chest plate tackling was what was being taught. So I got on board with all of the experts and started teaching it in about 2001. Questions always arose about how a small safety was going to tackle a large fullback with this technique among other questions. I argued that at least while he was being trampled, he had his head up. What I noticed about this technique was that no matter how hard you drilled it in practice almost no one ever executed it properly in a game. I noticed that while watching college and pro games that I almost never saw it executed properly. When I did see it executed properly it stood out in stark contrast to the other tackles being made. I also noticed what developed was that my players and others we played against started trusting their helmets too much and used their facemask as a weapon to tackle and block. Now mind you that they never heard that command from a coach even one time yet they did it consistently.

During this time I watched a high school player that I had taught to tackle when he was 8 yrs old and I had coached him for many years doing this as a Senior. He got a few bad concussions and it cut his senior season short. I started re-evaluating what I was teaching at this point.

My theory is that the players are lazy about the technique so they stay high as they are coming in to tackle instead of dropping their tail so they could explode up through the ballcarrier and so they hit him with their facemask instead of their chest. Add to this the ballcarrier has followed the same process and so he stays high as well and leads with his facemask. Now we have two ball players making head to head contact when neither coach ever intended that to be the case.

I think what the real problem with chest plate tackling is that it is completely unnatural. If I told someone who has never tackled anyone to go tackle that guy over there, he is going to tackle him with his shoulder. He is not going to rip up though the pits and tackle him with his chest.

While I was pondering this question in the off-season, I was emailing some good coaches that I know around the country about what they were doing. A few of them had gone to a version of shoulder tackling because they found chest plate tackling to be ineffective. You didn’t dare bring this subject up on a message board because anything but chest plate tackling was considered to be unsafe and you would be yelled down as being a heretic and a bad coach. I just wanted to teach my kids the safest and surest method there was. Also during this time I saw the movie “Invictus” which is a movie about the South African Rugby team. It hit me like a ton of bricks “if the safest way for them to tackle in rugby is with their shoulder and they don’t have helmets then it’s surely the safest way for us to tackle with helmets”. This was surely a big aha moment for me. I was back on track to where I wanted to be. I researched rugby tackling and starting teaching a version of it to my players. I still didn’t discuss it on message boards but I did in emails with others.

I really loved it when Pete Carroll put out the Hawk tackling video in 2014. I don’t know how many years it had been since I went back to shoulder tackling before this video came out but I could now come out of the closet and be a shoulder tackling enthusiast in public without repercussion because an expert had put his stamp of approval on it. I recommend watching that video and one called “Tackling Dummies Smarter” by Bobby Vernon if you’re interested in teaching the rugby style shoulder tackle. I won’t teach it to you here as they do a much better job than I could. They’re both on Youtube.

I have since purchased a few of the tackle rings and use them in practice as part of the whole program of teaching shoulder tackling. I really encourage you to do your own research on this subject. I just wanted to share my journey through it.

Barefoot Practice

I’m always talking about making the experience special for the players. Sometimes an opportunity that you didn’t expect happens and you have to just go with it or you might pass up a chance to make some memories for the kids. Just such an opportunity happened to my team this past season.

At our Saturday morning practices we do special teams first on the high school field then we go to a practice area, “over the hill” as it’s called to review the defensive game plan and rep offensive plays. On this Saturday morning, my QB forgot his spikes. I told him, well that sucks for you because you’ll have to practice barefoot. As we lined up to do kickoffs, I looked at his bare feet and imagined the other player’s spikes tearing them up. So I made a quick joke, or so I thought. “In support of Nathan and his predicament, let’s all go barefoot” I said. I really didn’t mean it. I got different responses. Some were crazy about the idea and the others…well, not so much. Then it hit me that it might actually be fun and I didn’t see any down side to it. We weren’t going to have an intense practice. Mostly review so I thought why not? So I told them all to take their socks and shoes off and put them on the sidelines. I did let the kickers keep their shoes on to do their kicking. The grass was a little wet and we got a few light showers during the practice. The boys slipped around in the wet grass and fell a few more times than they normally would have but all in all had a grand time.

So the next time God hands you an opportunity to make some memories for the kids, don’t be so fast to dismiss it. Don’t be that coach that always has to have it his way and keep grinding on the kids. Sometimes the best reason to do something is just because it is fun. The boys don’t need any more reason to do something. Why should you? Remember, it’s not about you.

10 years from now, they might forget the games they won or lost but they will always remember the barefoot practice.

Changing behavior from the inside out

If we want to change our inner self, we cannot do it by wishing it to be so. We have to actively pursue it. To correct an outward behavior we don’t like, we have to attack its source. That source is our heart. If our heart has taken a bad direction for a while, the only way to “fix” it is to give it a different direction to go in. We can’t get rid of a bad behavior by just trying to stop that behavior. We have to replace it with a good behavior. Once again, we have to change the heart first to go on this new path otherwise our efforts will be fruitless. We have to imagine the new behavior we want and then start practicing it just like we would any other skill we want to learn. We are apprenticing to Christ here and if you were apprenticing to a master of any skill, you would emulate them doing it until you master that skill. Jesus teaches us that in the example about washing the inside of the glass and that the outside will get clean in the process. (Matt 23:26)

Apprenticing is a long and arduous task. It does not happen overnight. We did not develop our bad attitudes overnight and they will not be transformed overnight. We must pull up beside our Master and ask him to guide us in this journey. He longs to complete this task in us so He will be glad to be there every step of the way.

If you’re angry with someone. Instead of thinking of all the things they’ve done to harm you, imagine Christ beside them and how He loves them. How would He reconcile this situation? First off, He wouldn’t be mad at them. He loves them when they do right and when they do wrong. That is the definition of grace. How can you extend this same grace to them? First forgive them for what they have done then do the most loving for them. Pray for them. Pray that they come to love and serve Christ in the way He wants them to. That is the best life for anybody so it must be for them too. You’ve now replaced bad intentions for good ones (with God’s help). Do this over and over for them and others.

If you lust for someone, imagine Christ in between the two of you. That makes it really hard to lust now with Him in the picture doesn’t it? Now pray that God will help you see this person as He does and love them as He does from the inside out not from the outside in as you have been doing.

When we apply this to coaching, we want to replace a bad behavior with a good one instead of just yelling at someone and telling them not to do that anymore. We must give them a positive behavior and drill it into them until it’s a habit.

If we want them to be respectful, we teach them how. All coaches will be referred to as Coach or Sir. Proper responses are yes sir, yes Coach _____. If they give a proper response then the relationship is as we want it and we can positively reinforce that in many ways. If they don’t give a proper response then they do pushups or some other form of punishment until the response is automatic. They must understand that our desire to change their behavior comes from a point of love otherwise it will be interpreted as meanness towards them. Remember to change behavior we must first change their heart so that the desire to do right lives there first. If we try to change just the behavior then we are imparting a type of legalism on them that Jesus warned the Pharisees about.

If we want them to not commit a holding penalty in a game then we need to teach them how to block without holding. Teach hand and shoulder placement without grasping the opponent’s jersey. Punish when they don’t achieve this and reward with praise when they do achieve this. So many coaches try to teach how to hold without getting caught and then are amazed when their guy gets called for holding. You taught him to hold so he did! Don’t be amazed when he gets caught. They have to intend not to hold without trying because that’s all they know. They only know the right way because that’s all they’ve been taught.

If we want our players to not jump offsides, we must teach them to focus while in their stances instead of telling them the negative “don’t jump”.

When trying to correct a negative behavior, first imagine that behavior as it is when it is positively exhibited then come up with a way to teach that and to drill it until they do it from the heart. This is real coaching and not just screaming out of frustration.

These thoughts come from my present study of “Renovation of the Heart” by Dallas Willard.

Speaking at Glazier Clinic in Nashville

Just want to let everyone know that I will be speaking at the Glazier clinic in Nashville, TN on Feb. 11th. If you live near there, I would love to see you there. I will be presenting 2 sessions on the Doublewing offense, 1 session on strategies specific to youth football, and 2 more sessions on character development and how I coach my team. Check it out at Glazier.com. Youth coaches can attend Glazier clinics for $25.

Contract with Myself (for the players)

Sorry I haven’t been making many posts lately but it is football season and I’m busy coaching my team. This contract is something I’ve been mulling over for a while. It’s a new idea of mine and I have not done it in the past.  I’m going to give this out to the boys and discuss it with them. Help them understand it. They are 10-12 yrs old so it will probably be a new idea to them. I want them to fill it out and put it on the wall in their room to remind themselves of their goals and to make good decisions in life to help them live out those goals. My hope is that it will clarify a lot of choices that could lead them down the wrong path and cut that off early in the process. I just want to make them think about the consequences before they act.

Who is the man I want to be when I’m 25?

What values do I want to have?

Integrity        Character     Courage        Dependable Committed   Warrior

Honest           Responsible  Kind                Loving            Trustworthy

What education do I want?

College          High school              Dropout        Trade school

What job do I want?

Engineer       Architect       Supervisor    Plumber        Welder          Teacher         Military

Fedex Delivery man           Electrician     none              other skilled trade

Other –

Where do I want to live?

In a house I own     Renting          With Mom and Dad

Do I want to be married?   Yes   No

Do I want to have kids?    Yes      No

Do I want to be a Christian?        Yes      No

What kind of life do I want?

Drug addicted         Alcoholic       Normal

Now you know who you and what you want to be when you’re 25. These are goals you have in your life. Now you have to make plans to achieve those goals. Every time you’re faced with a choice in your life, you need to ask yourself “Which choice will help me achieve my goals and which choice to take me away from my goals?” Also to make plans, you need to get advice from people that will help you figure out how to get to your goals.

 

I will try to live the life that will help me achieve the goals I have chosen here.

Signature____________________________    Date____________________

Proof of God Storytime

I’ve already told you about the storytimes I do with my players so instead of just writing this one, I thought I’d share it with you by video. I do the Proof of God speech in 2 parts on the same night of practice. For one, I like to keep water breaks short and two, you only have their attention for a short amount of time. Watch and enjoy. I hope you decide to use it. Video is a little rough. Shot on a cell phone.

Aggression Training

I hear the question all the time. How do I make Joey more aggressive? I hear it from other coaches and I hear it from parents. Well there is no magic pill you can give him or a miraculous speech you can make to get it to happen. What you can do is make a concerted effort with your team and you’ll make your team as a whole more aggressive. Most of the players will ride this wave and become more aggressive than they were. It is a slow process. You as a coach have to be willing to wait for it but work diligently towards it.

As I’ve said in some other articles, there is little to no testosterone in these little fellas so trying to get them to “man up” isn’t going to work. Challenging their nonexistent manhood is not going to work. You need to get the fear of hitting out of them. You must replace it with confidence. Teach them the skills first with coaches holding bags. Blocking or tackling. Be patient and teach by showing. Encourage them to hit the bag hard and drive. They need to learn that this doesn’t hurt. Keep encouraging to hit it harder and harder. Brag on them on how much harder they’re doing it than when they first tried it. Replace their fear with confidence in what they’re doing. Once they’re hitting the bag hard, you can move onto board drills. If you have a sled, it would be the next natural step but we don’t have one. A board drill is where two players try to drive each other straight back while having a board placed between their feet so that they keep their feet wide while driving. I stopped using boards a few years ago. I think it’s safer and I haven’t noticed any difference in performance of the players. Plus I think we’re more aggressive because we don’t fear slipping on the board. Divide them into groups of 5-8 equally matched players. If you mismatch your players, you can undo some of your progress you’re making. Keep the groups small to get more reps. Make sure you mix up the matchups in the group. Place a coach with each group. Have about one yard between them when they start. About like they’d have in a game. You can have some fun with this. Hoot and holler, get them hyped up and excited as they’re doing it. Brag on the winners and encourage the losers to work harder. You can move a player up to the group one better than the one he’s in if he’s dominating his group. They like these promotions but it also makes them work harder and get better. Just don’t do it before he’s ready. I recommend playing music during this. It automatically increases the intensity. You can play King of the boards if you have time. I usually plan to do board drills for about 15-20 minutes in the practices we do them. When you play King, You have all the players stand side by side facing you. Pick your 2 weakest and let them go first. You declare the winner. Winner stays on. Loser gets behind you. Encourage the team to root for them as they go at it. Keep going until there’s only one. He’s your King. A side bonus to this game is if the parents are watching they learn the pecking order on the team. The players pretty much already knew it.

The younger they are, the more of this they need. I think that board drills are the heart of our aggression. They allow a lot of contact and one on one battles with little chance of injury.

Another part is mental. Not that gaining confidence in board drills isn’t. Convince them how tough they are. Build them up, don’t tear them down. That’s why my practice starts with “Good evening Warriors”. The coach whom I highly respect (that’s you if you lost track) just called me a Warrior. If he believes I am then I must be. These little guys long to be powerful. They long to be a superhero. You just put a helmet, shoulder pads and a jersey on them. That’s just one step short of a cape. Teach them to fly and revel in it with them. Build this warrior mentality into them at every opportunity. Remind them that Iron sharpens Iron and that’s why we do so many board drills.

One of the biggest mistakes youth coaches make is to brag up the other team. They talk about how big they are, about how hard they hit, how fast they are. Sorry coach but in your attempt to challenge your players’ manhood, you scared them to death and they will play against them the same way…scared. And there you stand not understanding how the game went that way and asking me how can I make my players more aggressive. By NOT scaring the crap out of them for one is my answer. When you talk about the other team talk about how they do this but what we’re going to do to counter that is this and convince them that what we’re going to do is better than what they’re going to do. You have to have confidence in your plan for your players to buy into it.

Don’t call them little guys. Beware of your language in this regard. I cringe when I hear a Mom call her son “My Little Man”. She’s doing it innocently and thinks it’s cute but it tears at the fabric of what we’re trying to build up.

As I said in another article on here, remember that you’re building a wall of confidence in them brick by brick. Be patient.

Another drill I like for aggression training is Who’s ball. I learned this drill and many other things from Coach Dave Potter. It’s simply a fumble recovery drill but you let the players wrestle for the ball for an extended period of time. I do this at a station and we usually let them go at it for 30 seconds. They get to do another aggressive and competitive drill in a fairly safe and controlled manner. Hootin and hollering by the coach is encouraged here too.

One drill I love that is like real football is the Bronco Drill. I have seen it called a multi-level Oklahoma drill too. You set up 3 levels. 1st level is your linemen. 2nd level is your linebackers and the 3rd level is your secondary personnel. Make your 1st level about 3-4 yds wide, 2nd level 5 yds wide and the 3rd level about 8 yds wide. Place the levels about 5 yds apart. Adjust these distances based on the age and size of your players.

On the snap count the offensive man attempts to block the defensive man in one direction or the other. The running back has to read the blocks to make the cuts to score. The defensive man is to shed the block and make the tackle. Try to keep the matchups as equal as possible. Last year, one night when we had some players and coaches missing, I put us all into one group and we ran Super Bronco for the first time. We put 2 of each at each level so we ended up with 13 in the drill at once.  2 O-linemen and 2 D-linemen, etc. Still only one ballcarrier. This is now our staple on how we run it. It is fun, chaotic and intense. Everybody loves it. Coaches and players. By keeping the matchups equal, we are increasing each player’s growth as much as possible. There are many other competitive drills you can do. These are just a few. Remember to build up slowly.

Plan your season before planning your practice.

To steal a phrase from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits book: Begin with the end in mind. I have been doing this with my team for many years but I never really had a title for it.

Envision your team at mid-season. Think this through thoroughly. What plays you want to be running at that point and the players’ thorough knowledge of it. What defense do you think you’ll be running? The mental and physical toughness you want your team to have. The hustle you expect at that point. The conditioning level you want to be at. Now with that mental picture in mind, start writing.

  1. To run offense A, we need to learn these specific blocking techniques. Drive blocks, double teams, pulls, downblocks, reach blocks, etc. Not all offenses employ all types of blocks there are. What are the steps needed for each type of block. If your offense does not use them, it would be a waste of practice time to teach them. Teach techniques specific to your offense. What backfield actions are necessary and what aren’t. What pass routes do you employ? Teach only those. If you decide to add a play at mid-season you never thought of, you can also add the elements of it as well at that time.
  2. Now that you have your list for your offense, make it for your defense and special teams. Obviously for defense, you will need to teach tackling. Other skills will depend on whether you have a reading defense or attacking defense. Do they need to learn block destruction or block evasion or both?
  3. Identify the drills you need to teach these skills. Write them down. If you don’t know what drills to use, either search the internet or design them yourself. I have designed many drills to teach specific game situations.
  4. Now that you have that list, you can plan what you need to accomplish each week to get to the mid-season vision that you started with. Remember to include drills for conditioning and physical toughness. Physical toughness gives birth to mental toughness. I will do some conditioning and drills specifically for this goal.
  5. You are now ready to do your daily practice planning based on the lists of drills you already wrote down. Do the ones you consider most important every day or at least every other day. Others may be once or twice per week. I will also include the lessons I teach my players during water breaks but that may not be your shtick. Analyze whether your players are “getting it” or not. Improve your teaching or number of reps if they are not. Whether you split into separate groups for linemen and running backs is up to you and the makeup of your coaching staff.
  6. Have multiple stations to run drills. Spend 5-10 minutes at each station but no more as that will greatly ratchet up the boredom factor for the kids. Keep each group to 8 kids or less to maximize reps at each station. I like to mix conditioning stations with learning stations. Too much of either makes Jack a dull boy. Players run from station to station. This sets expectations of hustle. If they don’t their whole group runs extra. Upon arriving at the next station, they perform 10 pushup, 10 situps and 5 seconds in a good 3 pt stance (from Derek Wade’s Impact book). We remind them by saying do your 10-10-5. We run to and from everything whether it’s the next drill or a water break
  7. Now you can execute team drills with the whole offense or defense. Repping plays on air for offense and pursuit angle drills for defense are a good start.

While this may be a short article to read, it is a long exercise if you do it.

Remember, not planning is planning to fail. Good luck and have a great season.

Is winning the next game all it’s really about?

For many years I had this expectation of winning every game we played. If we won the game, all I felt was relief. No feeling of happiness or joy, just relief. If we lost, I was crushed and felt awful for a few days afterward. I put that much pressure on myself. I noticed the boys didn’t have this problem. They might cry about it right after the game but in a few hours they were completely over it. Why can’t I be like that is what I thought?

I think I was not making the outcome of the game the main thing, I was making it the only thing. It left me feeling empty. OK, we won. That’s what I expected because I worked my tail off to make it happen. Now what? There has to be more to it than that or you won’t do this for very long. I probably would have quit coaching if I hadn’t figured out that it’s more important to do it in such a way as to benefit the kids beyond just wins and losses.

Once I decided I was doing it for them and not for me it changed my outlook. Now the most enjoyable time for me is practice. When I get to spend time with the boys, interact with them and teach them about the wonderful sport of football and lessons that go far beyond the football field. This has allowed me to create relationships with them for life. That is way more rewarding than any win can be. I also love when I get to share memories of battles won and lost on the football field with them. I have heard from many former players that the time spent with me was the best time of their lives (so far). I am encouraged and saddened by this. Encouraged because I helped to provide them with some of the best memories of their young life. Saddened because nothing else in their life has been better. It gives me incentive to keep going and doing what I’m doing. Also to keep learning and improving the process. I want the next generation to get even more out of the experience than my past players did.

So I implore you, find out ways to make it about them. You will still win ball games. We still do but we’re winning at much more than that now.